Posts Tagged ‘twelfth night’

From the deep archives: TWELFTH NIGHT at Lincoln Center Theater in 1998

December 2, 2013

twelfth night lct playbill
Seeing Mark Rylance and Company’s take on Twelfth Night, currently on Broadway, conjured fond remembrance of Nicholas Hytner’s 1998 production at Lincoln Center Theater. Many snoots were cocked at Hytner’s casting the play with young movie stars not schooled in Shakespearean performance. But Hytner’s reading of the play struck me as deep and thoughtful, and Bob Crowley produced one of his most spectacular sets for the occasion. (The production was broadcast  on “Live from Lincoln Center” and you can see clips from it on YouTube starting here.)

My review begins:

Director Nicholas Hytner has said in interviews that his production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Lincoln Center Theater in New York continues the theme of unrequited love he explored in his film The Object of My Affection. What he was shyer about saying was that the production also investigates the same slipperiness of sexual identity that figured heavily in the film about a gay man’s affair with his female roommate. In any case, Hytner has mounted a physically ravishing production (with a show-stealing set by scenic genius Bob Crowley) that makes the case for Twelfth Night as Shakespeare’s most direct examination of homo love.

            The production, which runs through August 30, features Hytner’s Affection-ate leading man, Paul Rudd, who is practically unrecognizable here. Bearded, hairy-chested and with a scraggly rock-star mane, Rudd’s Duke Orsino is costumed by Catherine Zuber to resemble Prince in his New Power Generation period — all purple pajamas and brocade uniforms. As the audience enters, he and several serving boys are sprawled around an onstage pond passing a pipe and being serenaded by court musicians. He rouses himself to rhapsodize about Olivia (Kyra Sedgwick), the countess who spurns his advances while mourning her perhaps over-beloved brother. It becomes pretty clear, however, that this Orsino’s vision of women is a romantic spasm of compulsory heterosexuality. He seems quite content hanging with the homeboys. And when Viola (Helen Hunt) washes ashore from a shipwreck and disguises herself in trousers with just the right amount of gold piping to infiltrate his household as “Cesario,” she/he immediately becomes the Duke’s favorite, hand-picked to strip him down to his Princely purple trunks for a morning dip.

You can read the full review online here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Performance diary: TWELFTH NIGHT on Broadway

December 1, 2013

twelfth-night-poster-3092311.29.13 –  The production of Twelfth Night – or Twelfe Night, or What You Will, as the playbill officially calls it – at the Belasco Theater on Broadway in rep with The Tragedie of King Richard the Third is a fascinating and fun exercise in historical recreation. The production originated in London at Shakespeare’s Globe and is performed by an all-male cast led by Mark Rylance (who has blown Broadwaygoers’ minds in recent productions of Boeing Boeing, La Bête, and Jerusalem) in a bravura performance as the Countess Olivia. The audience is invited to arrive early to watch the actors onstage getting made up, dressed, and sewn into their costumes. The stage is lit with beeswax candles (and also modern lighting equipment). Meanwhile, a band of musicians entertains on instruments played in Shakespeare’s time but not so much nowadays: shawms, curtal, rauschpfeife, theorbo, cittern, sackbut, and hurdy gurdy. Yes, you get to watch a guy playing hurdy gurdy, an instrument I associate with the circus and Donovan’s hit song “Hurdy Gurdy Man” but had never laid eyes on. Sackbut, too – it’s a kind of Elizabethan trombone. The show is performed with some audience members in boxes onstage and the musicians perched in a gallery over the stage. The three actors who play the female roles pull them off handsomely – besides Rylance (below right), whose outrageous royal costumes and clown makeup suggest The White Queen out of Alice in Wonderland, that would be Samuel Barnett as Viola (below left, he was also wonderful a few seasons ago in The History Boys on Broadway) and Paul Chahidi as Maria. Liam Brennan makes for a sexy and amusing Orsino, and even with his curious Irish (?) accent he nicely pulls off the scene where the Duke finds himself strangely attracted to Cesario, the boy that Viola is pretending to be.

twelfe night 1

Much as I enjoyed these things, ultimately it’s not the best production of Twelfth Night I’ve ever seen. The director, Tim Carroll, worked hard to ground these characters in believable reality but several of the performances feel like missed opportunities. I’m so not a fan of broad comedy, but certain roles demand it or they either don’t make sense or just wind up boring the audience, both of which are true of Peter Hamilton Dyer’s Feste. I’ve seen productions where Sir Andrew Aguecheek stole every scene he was in. I’m thinking of a production I saw in 1978 at Brandeis University in which Robert Moberly’s Sir Andrew surpassed Jean Marsh’s Olivia and Ellis Rabb’s Malvolio. That doesn’t come close to happening with Angus Wright’s anemic performance. It’s great to see Stephen Fry, a masterful performer and witty writer, undertake Malvolio, but the scene where he confronts the trio who humiliated him has zero emotional weight, strange after the effort put into making him a flesh-and-blood character. Always one of the trickiest scenes to pull off is the recognition scene where Viola in boy-drag comes face-to-face with her twin brother Sebastian, whom she thought died in the shipwreck that washed her ashore. Here, it does not succeed.

In many productions the music comes close to stealing the show. I still remember some songs from my college theater department’s production, and Jeanine Tesori’s score for Nicholas Hytner’s 1998 staging at Lincoln Center (prime candidate for Best Twelfth Night I’ve Ever Seen) stands up to this day. The music for this production, chosen and arranged by Claire van Kampen (Mark Rylance’s wife and longtime Shakespearean collaborator), is scrupulously faithful to the historical record – and dull. Oops.

I know, picky-picky. Most people are loving the production and you’ll walk away mostly with images of Rylance’s performance in your head, his gliding walk and the way he moves that dress around the stage.


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